Saturday, November 21, 2009
Ten things to watch
By Mark Schlabach
With only three Saturdays to go in the 2009 regular season, you'd expect a buffet of games with serious postseason implications.
Instead, No. 1 Florida is playing Florida International and No. 2 Alabama is hosting FCS foe Chattanooga.
But there are at least a few games on this weekend's schedule that will have some impact on how the postseason turns out.
Here are 10 things to watch this weekend:
1. What will Texas quarterback Colt McCoy’s last home game be like?
The Longhorns will say good-bye to McCoy, their record-setting quarterback, when he plays his final home game against Kansas at Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday night (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
McCoy is one victory shy of breaking former Georgia star David Greene’s NCAA record of 43 career victories. The Longhorns can clinch the Big 12 South with a victory over Kansas, which has lost five games in a row and is conducting an internal investigation into coach Mark Mangino’s treatment of players.
“It goes back to the very first day I talked with coach [Mack] Brown,” McCoy said. “I asked him what it was going to take for me to be his quarterback. He told me, ‘You’ve just got to win. You’ve got to find a way to win.’”
McCoy has certainly done that during his college career, and he has a chance to lead No. 3 Texas to the Jan. 7 BCS national championship game. If the Longhorns beat the Jayhawks, rival Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night and the Big 12 North champion in the Dec. 5 Big 12 championship game, they’ll play for a national championship.
2. Can California slow down Stanford’s Toby Gerhart?
Oregon and Southern California couldn’t do it the last two weeks, and few teams have slowed down the Cardinal’s bruising running back.
According to ESPN research, Gerhart leads the Pac-10 with 39 runs of 10 yards or more and has been one of the country’s best short-yardage runners. On third- and fourth-down plays of two yards or less, Gerhart has converted 83.3 percent of the time.
With a victory over the No. 25 Bears, No. 17 Stanford would stay in the Pac-10 title race and enhance its bowl possibilities. Cal is coming off a 24-16 upset of Arizona, in which backup running back Shane Vereen ran for 159 yards. Star tailback Jahvid Best will miss his second straight game with a concussion.
3. Can Oregon move a step closer to the Rose Bowl?
Oregon and Stanford all but ended USC’s hopes of playing in a fifth straight Rose Bowl.
The Ducks can earn a trip to Pasadena for the first time since 1995 by beating Arizona on the road Saturday night (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) and rival Oregon State at home on Dec. 3.
Tailback LeGarrette Blount has been reinstated to the team, but he’ll have a hard time getting LaMichael James off the field. James has already run for 1,139 yards, an Oregon freshman record, and has posted five straight 100-yard games.
4. Will Ohio State extend Michigan’s misery?
The No. 9 Buckeyes locked up a spot in their first Rose Bowl in 13 seasons by beating Iowa 27-24 in overtime last week.
Ohio State doesn’t have much at stake in the regular-season finale at Michigan (ABC, noon ET), but it would like nothing more than to make a bad Michigan season even worse.
The Wolverines have lost four games in a row and six of seven in coach Rich Rodriguez’s second season, including a 45-24 loss at Wisconsin last week.
With an ongoing NCAA investigation into his program’s practice habits, Rodriguez could really use an upset win over Ohio State to quiet his critics. OSU has beaten Michigan five times in a row, the longest streak in this series since Michigan beat the Buckeyes six times in a row from 1922-1927.
5. Will Clemson finally get it done?
The No. 23 Tigers can clinch their first appearance in the ACC championship game by beating reeling Virginia at home on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 ET).
With one more victory, Clemson will clinch the ACC’s Atlantic Division and earn a rematch with Georgia Tech in the Dec. 5 ACC championship game in Tampa, Fla. The No. 7 Yellow Jackets needed a last-minute field goal to beat the Tigers 30-27 in Atlanta on Sept. 10.
Clemson has been among the country’s hottest teams recently, winning five games in a row. The Tigers have averaged 42 points and 425.8 yards of offense during that stretch.
6. Does Iowa have anything left to play for?
The Hawkeyes’ BCS national championship hopes ended two weeks ago when they lost quarterback Ricky Stanzi to injury and lost to Northwestern 17-10 at home.
Iowa won’t be going to the Rose Bowl, either, after it lost to Ohio State in overtime last week.
But if Iowa can avoid a three-game losing streak to end the regular season, it would possibly still be in position to play in a lucrative BCS bowl game.
If the Hawkeyes finish 10-2 by beating Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday (ESPN/ESPN360.com, noon ET), it might be an attractive choice for the Fiesta Bowl. Iowa fans love to travel to warmer parts of the country in early January, and the Hawkeyes might be a more attractive choice than Penn State because of their head-to-head victory over the Nittany Lions.
7. What’s left for Notre Dame?
The Fighting Irish fell to 6-4 after last week’s 27-22 loss at Pittsburgh, leaving coach Charlie Weis’ future at the school in serious doubt.
But if Notre Dame can win its last two games -- home against Connecticut on Saturday and at Stanford on Nov. 28 -- it could sneak its way into the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on New Year’s Day.
For that to happen, Notre Dame would have to win at least one of its last two games, or possibly even both. Athletics director Jack Swarbrick said he won’t decide Weis’ fate until after the season ends.
8. What will Florida and Alabama try to accomplish this weekend?
More than anything, the top two teams in the BCS standings want to avoid injuries when they take on lesser opponents at home. The Gators play Florida International (ESPN360.com, 12:30 p.m. ET); the Crimson Tide hosts FCS foe Chattanooga (ESPN360.com, 12:21 p.m. ET).
Alabama would like to maintain its momentum on offense, after the passing game finally came alive in victories over LSU and at Mississippi State. Quarterback Greg McElroy broke out of a month-long slump, and sophomore receiver Julio Jones once again looks healthy and explosive.
The Gators are still searching for answers on offense, but the offensive line played better in last week’s 24-14 win at South Carolina. Florida’s offense needs to gain confidence before it closes the regular season Nov. 28 against Florida State at home and plays Alabama in the Dec. 5 SEC championship game in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
9. Will TCU have a letdown at Wyoming?
The No. 4 Horned Frogs are coming off an impressive 55-28 rout of then-No. 16 Utah, so there’s always the chance of an emotional letdown.
But TCU has played as well as any team in the country over the last month, and there’s too much at stake to lose focus this late in the season. As long as the Horned Frogs beat the Cowboys at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday and defeat winless New Mexico at home Nov. 28, they’ll play in a BCS bowl game.
TCU lost its last game at Wyoming, 24-21 in 2007. But the Horned Frogs crushed the Cowboys 54-7 in Fort Worth, Texas last season.
10. What’s at stake in the SEC West showdown at Ole Miss?
Alabama has already wrapped up the SEC West title, but Ole Miss and LSU might be playing for a spot in the Capital One Bowl or Cotton Bowl when they meet in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday.
The Rebels have won four of five games after a slow start and walloped Tennessee 42-17 last week. The Tigers will have to account for tailback Dexter McCluster, who ran for a school-record 282 yards with four touchdowns against the Volunteers.
LSU, which had beaten the Rebels six straight times before losing 31-13 in Baton Rouge, La., last season, might have starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson back. He missed last week’s 24-16 win over Louisiana Tech, but returned to practice this week.